Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of
fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the
ugly parts and recycling it for more than
it’s worth. - "Everybody's free to wear sunscreen", Baz Luhrmann.
Sunscreen aside, there’s some pieces of advice that stick with you; easy-to-remember lines that spring into your mind just when you need that extra lick of courage, or that calming reassurance, or even that tough slap of reality. At this time of year, when we look back on all we’ve done and prepare our resolutions for the time ahead, there’s a few little morsels I’d like to share. All of them come from one of my constant sources of strength - Howard "Papa" Grey. Now in his 70’s, my Dad was an advertising photographer for almost 50 years. When it comes to agency life, creative chaos and ego management, he’s literally seen it all. Here’s a few of his gems.
1. “Make your own luck”
Luck is seldom effortless, especially in the world of work. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right people, but recognising it and making the most of it takes smarts. The beauty in this piece of advice is that it demands action - seek out luck rather than waiting for it to come to you. There’s also a variation of this one of “buy your own luck”, for those moments where you're in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong people and throwing money at a problem really is the only way out.
2. “If you can’t turn up early for work on Christmas Eve, don’t even bother to come in on Christmas Day.”
Sometimes you just have to suck it up and get on with things. Dad says he once saw this on a sign at Disney World, and he had it taped above his desk for years. This has become more of a metaphor than a workplace reality today, but having the grit to give your all, go home, and then do it all over again the next day is always commendable.
3. “Low and slow. Low and slow”
This has been my Dad’s one bit of guidance to me as a “woman in the workplace”. Maybe he’s re-appropriated its true meaning since his Mad Men days, but he’s been known to proffer this for public speaking and “big chat” occasions. It’s code for “don’t act like a girl” - talk with a low, slow voice and people will listen. No giggling!
4. “If you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes”
This is a personal favourite. It forces you to visualise your career path as a sea of dog’s butts - there to be bypassed as you head for the clear horizon beyond. Of course, in today’s flatter organisational structures, we tend to run in neat, horizontal packs: Busby Berkeley formations of the canine ilk. But, it’s true, if you really want to change things you’ve got to be the one to do it.
5. “Hard on the issue, soft on the relationship”
You simply can’t go wrong with this one. I've been reminded of it since kindergarden (“I understand that Jessica borrowed your pencil sharpener without asking, but kicking her in the head at break time is not the answer”). Conflict is a part of life - both at home and in the workplace. If you need to negotiate, get heard, or even resolve an argument, being serious about the issue, but nice to the other person can work wonders. It’s not manipulative, it’s actually one of the kindest ways to get through a tough time.
So there we have it. I’d love to know which snippets you’ve clung to in times of need, or which useful statements have yet to make it into a framed letterpress on Pinterest. Til then, be good and happy holidays!